Missouri and Arkansas close out regular season on skids

Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson (1) throws a pass against LSU during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.

Rocky Top got the best of a free-falling Missouri football team in Columbia last Saturday, but the Tigers will hit rock bottom if they can’t find a way to end the regular season with a win against Arkansas.

The Tigers (5-6, 2-5 SEC) travel to a neutral site in Little Rock, Arkansas, to take on the Razorbacks (2-9, 0-7) at 1:30 p.m. Friday. It’s the last chance for Barry Odom’s Tigers to save themselves from some embarrassment, and — who knows? — the game might have implications regarding Odom’s future at MU.

“Our entire organization knows the impact of this game,” Odom said Monday.

With that in mind, Odom should be grateful this Thanksgiving weekend that Missouri gets to end its schedule with the Razorbacks. Here’s a list of reasons why even a demoralized Missouri team should easily beat Arkansas.

Reason No. 1: Arkansas fired its coach, Chad Morris, on Nov. 10 before he could even finish his second season in the position. His former players are now stuck navigating through the always-dreaded midseason staff turnover. Say what you want about Odom at Missouri this year, but consider this: When Morris got the job at Arkansas in late 2017, he had an easy recruiting advantage on linebacker Nick Bolton, with whom he shared a hometown. Morris, though, didn’t think Bolton had the size to play in the SEC, so he didn’t offer a scholarship. Odom landed Bolton, who is having an All-SEC sophomore season. The grass is always greener.

Reason No. 2: Arkansas has lost its last five games by at least four scores. Interim head coach Barry Lunney Jr. is doing his best under the circumstances, but the Razorbacks got hit by a truck at No. 1 LSU last weekend. After that 56-20 snoozer (Arkansas actually scored the last 14 points), Arkansas has lost its last five games by a combined total of 254-80 — an average score of 51-16. Tough opponents (LSU, Alabama, Auburn) might be a valid excuse for that ... if the Razorbacks hadn’t also lost 45-19 to Western Kentucky.

To add insult to injury, Western Kentucky quarterback Ty Storey transferred there from Arkansas last season and beat the Hogs with 213 yards. On Arkansas’ senior night.

Reason No. 3: Arkansas still hasn’t really figured out its own quarterback situation. Along with Storey, Cole Kelley transferred to Southern Louisiana after 2018 and Connor Noland quit football to focus on playing for the Arkansas baseball team. And if that isn’t the best example of how much people care about football there, then what is?

Anyway, Arkansas seems to have settled for now on true freshman K.J. Jefferson, after cycling through several inadequate options. Nick Starkel, a Texas A&M transfer, has completed a lowly 53.6% of his passes and has 10 interceptions versus seven touchdowns. Ben Hicks has completed fewer than half of his throws — 48.5% — and has two interceptions for his two TDs. Arkansas was so desperate that it named Jerry Jones’ grandson, John Stephen Jones, the starting QB against Western Kentucky. He was 3-for-10 with 27 yards and an interception.

Jefferson played the most reps against WKU and LSU.

Reason No. 4: Arkansas is No. 118 in the country (out of 130 FBS teams) in total defense with 461.7 yards allowed per game and 6.71 yards allowed per play; No. 106 in total offense; No. 106 in turnover margin (minus-6); No. 123 in team completion percentage (50.8%); No. 89 in rushing offense (the strongest area of its offense) with 145.5 yards per game; and No. 125 in run defense with 228.5 yards allowed per game and 5.73 per carry.

It is also No. 114 in third-down offense with a .336 success rate; No. 117 in third-down defense, allowing a .457 success rate; No. 89 in pass yards allowed per attempt (8.07); No. 120 in red zone offense; No. 91 in red zone defense; No. 75 in tackles for loss allowed per game; No. 109 in tackles for loss; No. 98 in sacks; and No. 111 in time of possession.

Don’t worry about catching your breath for Reason No. 5, because it’s barely worth finding another example of how bad Arkansas is. But how’s this? Arkansas lost at home to San José State, which is competing for last place in the Mountain West (4-7, 1-6 Mountain West).

Point is: With Barry Odom’s job possibly on the line, Missouri shouldn’t have any trouble with Arkansas on Saturday. Shouldn’t, anyway.

  • Bennett Durando covers Mizzou football for the Missourian. Reach him with tips, story ideas or Mizzou-induced rage at bdurando@outlook.com, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

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